By Chris Welch / @chriswelch
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It’s not an exaggeration to say that Sonos customers have been anticipating a product like the Sub Mini for years. Until now, the only way to fully realize a “complete” Sonos home theater system meant coughing up $749 for the Sub subwoofer — on top of whatever you paid for a Sonos soundbar and rear surrounds. That total can quickly balloon to just shy of $2,000 depending on the soundbar you want. For many consumers with Sonos’ step-down products like the Beam and Ray, the Sub was impractically expensive and out of reach.
That’s why there’s now the Sub Mini. First revealed by The Verge back in May, Sonos originally intended to ship the $429 subwoofer well before the October 6th release date it ultimately settled on. But a rough financial quarter and underwhelming demand for the entry-level Ray soundbar led the company to push back the Sub Mini’s release by several weeks.
Now, the smaller, more affordable subwoofer is nearly here. I’ve been testing it for over a week, sampling the Sub Mini’s low-end performance across TV, movies, video games, and music. If you’ve been counting down the days until you can get your hands on one, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. There are still circumstances and use cases where the larger, pricier Sub is the better choice. But so long as you plan to use the Sub Mini in a small- to mid-size room, it has all the kick necessary for movie night. And in my opinion, its design looks much nicer than the glossy, boxy Sub — even if, on the inside, they’re both based on similar acoustic principles.
Standing 12 inches high and weighing 14 pounds, the Sub Mini isn’t as “mini” as its name might suggest. But a subwoofer can only get so small if you still want it to pack some wallop. The Sub Mini is significantly larger than the Sonos Move, itself a fairly big “portable” speaker, and finding a hiding place for it near your TV might take some creativity. I’ve been testing the white Sub Mini, and I’m very happy Sonos moved away from a glossy finish in favor of a matte look. The “center tunnel” section of the product — the cutout in the middle — is black, which creates a classy two-tone look reminiscent of the second-generation Play:5.
Like the Sub, the Sub Mini’s dual woofers face inward (one on each side of the tunnel) for a force-canceling effect to mitigate floor rumble and keep your downstairs neighbors happy. Those relatively small six-inch woofers are encased in an acoustically sealed cabinet structure that Sonos says “neutralizes distortion” and should improve bass response and extension. Both the Sub and Sub Mini are designed to reach as low as 25Hz, but the Sub’s larger woofers let it hit output levels two to three times louder than the Sub Mini. It’s really that resonance that separates them.
Setting up the Sub Mini was a breeze. You just plug in the power cord, open the Sonos app, and the software will prompt you to set up the new device. You’re then asked to hold your smartphone near the top of the Sub Mini to transfer your Wi-Fi and other Sonos system details over NFC. For the last step, Sonos asks which existing soundbar or speaker you want to pair the Sub Mini with. Obviously most people will link it to a Beam or Ray (I tested with both), but you can also combine it with Sonos’ music speakers like the Play:5 / Sonos Five to bring more low-frequency energy and clarity to your tunes.
Once setup is done, Sonos offloads low frequencies to the Sub Mini while letting the original device handle the mids and treble. This divvying up of sound frequencies happens automatically. If you disable the Sub or unplug it, your soundbar simply returns to its normal full-range output. Like always, it’s best to tune your Sonos home theater setup with the help of the Sonos app’s Trueplay feature, which remains exclusive to iOS devices.
Outside of Trueplay, there aren’t many settings to adjust for the Sub Mini in Sonos’ app. You can toggle it off or adjust the “sub level” slider anywhere from -15 to +15 if you really want to explore what the subwoofer can do. I left it at the default of zero for most of my testing. If you activate Night mode while watching TV or a movie, that will also apply to the Sub Mini to keep its intensity and rumble in check.
It’s worth noting that the Sub Mini does not suffer from a bug that, at the time of publication, affects the Sub (Gen 3). Owners of that product have complained about reduced performance after a recent software update. Here’s a statement on the situation, courtesy of Sonos spokesperson Olivia Singer:
“Last month, we made a change to Arc’s audio profile to improve dialogue clarity and the overall sound experience. The change was based on feedback from our listeners in the field and brings Arc in line with our other Home Theater products. We have identified an issue for some users whose configuration includes a Sub (with or without surrounds), who find their Sub output is lower than desired after performing a new Trueplay tuning. Users with Beam or Ray bonded with Sub can increase the Sub level for a more powerful low-end response, however this won’t have the same impact for Arc users. Customers using Arc bonded with a Sub (and/or surrounds) who find their Sub output is lower than desired following performing a new Trueplay tuning, should temporarily disable Trueplay on Arc until this is addressed by an upcoming software update.”
So, does the Sub Mini deliver on the company’s “bold bass” promises? For movies and TV, I’d give a solid thumbs-up. I watched plenty of flicks while testing the Sub Mini in combination with both a second-gen Beam and Ray, and performance is largely what I hoped it would be. In this lounge fight scene from The Batman, the Sub Mini brought an impressive thump to the music playing in the club throughout the scuffle. I’m a big Edge of Tomorrow fan, and the first scenes of that film are a good workout for any subwoofer. The Sub Mini proved itself ready for the challenge and never distorted. This remained true throughout the entirety of Blade Runner 2049 as well. Movies and shows alike sounded fuller and more dynamic.
For music, I bounced around tracks like Genesis’ “Follow You Follow Me” and Ray LaMontagne’s album Trouble. The Sub Mini noticeably lent more bottom end to whatever I played and made the whole experience more dynamic than listening to music through the soundbar alone. Synths and standup bass sound richer with the Sub Mini there to give lower frequencies more power and presence. I can imagine that the full-fledged Sub offers more nuance and variation in the bass tones, but I didn’t have one at hand for a direct comparison. Depending on volume level or content, it’s not always obvious that the Sub Mini is putting in work. There’s minimal floor vibration due to those force-canceling woofers. But just reach your hand into the center tunnel and you’ll feel constant movement.
I didn’t encounter any playback issues or dropouts over the course of my testing. Only one Sub Mini can be connected to a soundbar, whereas you can include up to three units of the normal Sub (Gen 3) in a system. Sonos is positioning the Sub Mini as the ideal companion for all of its midrange gear, like the Ray, Beam, One, and Ikea Symfonisk hardware. The company’s top-level speakers (like the Arc and Five) and bigger viewing spaces are better served by the full-size Sub. It felt just right for my apartment, but I could see how the Sub Mini might strain itself in large living rooms or basements due to its reduced footprint. Also, it’s not compatible with either of Sonos’ portable speakers, so you can’t use it with the aforementioned Move.
Every smart device now requires you to agree to a series of terms and conditions before you can use it — contracts that no one actually reads. It’s impossible for us to read and analyze every single one of these agreements. But we started counting exactly how many times you have to hit “agree” to use devices when we review them since these are agreements most people don’t read and definitely can’t negotiate.
By using the Sonos Sub Mini, you’re agreeing to:
Sonos also collects what it refers to as “additional usage data,” and this covers a lot, including:
You can opt out of additional usage collection from the Sonos mobile app, but Sonos warns that doing so will disable functionality like personalization services (e.g., Recently Played), Sonos Radio, voice control, and more.
The final tally is two mandatory agreements and one optional agreement.
I think the Sub Mini will be a welcome addition to many Sonos living room setups, and even if $429 is nowhere near “cheap” — that’s more than some home-theater-in-a-box 5.1 systems and the Ray soundbar itself — it’s still considerably less than investing $749 into the Sub. You’re paying extra for Sonos’ meticulous design and engineering along with the stylish aesthetic, but it’s not for nothing.
The Sub Mini isn’t technically or acoustically as powerful as the standard Sub, but it succeeds in providing an immersive, full-bodied audio experience that’s only possible with a “complete” Sonos home theater system. And it deals less damage to your bank account.
Photography by Chris Welch / The Verge
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